A journal of academic theology

March 1998 editorial

This semester at Marquette University a doctoral-level course is exploring “Theological Highlights of the Twentieth Century.” Professor and graduate students are surveying the last hundred years to formulate a preliminary assessment of this complex century rapidly coming to a close. These hundred years have seen harrowing wars and revolutions, human suffering on a scale beyond comprehension, economic instabilities, and population shifts, yet at the same time dramatic advances in technology. In ecclesiastical circles there has been high-level opposition to certain theological movements (modernism, the nouvelle thèologie, liberation theology). Against the backdrop of dramatic events stretching from the sinking of the Titanic to the remote-controlled exploration of the planet Mars, one can ask what have been the best achievements of theological enterprises such as Vatican II, the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, the Groupe des Dombes, EATWOT, or CELAM as well as classic texts produced by individual theologians. What theological writings in this century would you nominate for special commendation?

Catholics might single out works such as Romaneo Guardini’s Vom Geist der Liturgie (1918), Karl Adam’s Das Wesen des Katholizismus(1924), Teilhard de Chardin’s Le milieu divin (written in 1927 but published years later), Yves Congar’s Chrétiens dèsunis (1937), Henri de Lubac’s Surnaturel (1946), Edward Schillebeeckx’s Christus, Sacrament van de Godsontmoeting (1959), Gustavo Gutirrez’s Teología de la liberación (1971), Bernard Lonergan’s Method in Theology (1972), or Elisabeth Schssler Fiorenza’s, In Memory of Her (1983) to list some international favorites. Non-Catholics might rather choose Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics (1932-67), Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), Paul Tillich’s Biblical Religion and the Search for Ultimate Reality (1955), Wolfhardt Pannenberg’s Offenbarung als Geschichte (1961), Jörgen Moltmann’s Theologie der Hoffnung (1964), George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine (1984), or Chung Hyun Kyung’s Struggle to be the Sun Again (1990).

Were theologians in this century in conscious dialogue with other theologians or did they for the most part work independently of one another? Which adjective better describes the context of the century’s theological output: isolationist or dialogic? How much of the products of this century will still be read at the close of the 21st century?

Among theological texts produced by means of collective endeavors, winning nominations often include Vatican II’s Lumen gentium (1964), CELAM’s Medelln documents Church in the Present-Day Transformation of Latin America (1968), ARCIC-I’s Final Report (1981), Faith and Order’s Lima document entitled Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982), the Groupe des Dombes’s Pour la conversion des Eglises (1991), and the Faith and Order’s Santiago de Compostela’s document On the Way to Fuller Koinonia (1993).

If it is true to say with Klaus Schatz that forgetfulness of history threatens the Church’s very substance then we need to keep before us what was accomplished in the last three generations. One way for readers of this quarterly to keep our present course in perspective would be (as other magazines and newspapers do from time to time) to include a section called “Fifty Years Ago” or “Twenty-Five Years Ago.”

The March 1948 issue of Theological Studies, volume nine, featured four articles (three by Jesuits from Woodstock and St. Mary’s, Kansas, and one by a priest from the Catholic University of America). Gerard Ellard wrote on “How Fifth Century Rome Administered the Sacraments”; John Courtney Murray (TS’s editor at that time) wrote on “The Root of Faith in M.J. Scheeben”; Stanislaus Grabowski discussed “Sinners and the Mystical Body according to St. Augustine.” The Notes on Moral Theology (some 36 pages) by Gerard Kelly concentrated on the matters related to the fifth, seventh, and eighth commandments as well as to the precepts of the Church. Book reviewers included Bernard Lonergan and, amazingly, another reviewer, Fred Moriarty, who fifty years later is still reviewing books for TS from his place of “retirement” at Boston College.

Twenty-five years ago, TS’s Volume 34 in March 1973, reflected both continuity and change from the past. The impact of resourcementtheology especially as it affected biblical, patristic, and ecumenical issues was more evident. Benedictine Aelred Cody from Sant’ Anselmo in Rome wrote on “The Foundation of the Church: Biblical Criticism for Ecumenical Discussion”; Martin Tripole discussed “Ecclesiological Development in Moltmann’s Theology of Hope“; Charles Kannengiesser reviewed themes in the Christology of St. Athanasius and William Vander Marck discussed patristic and medieval interpretations of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, a subject which is once again raised in this present issue. Richard McCormick, teaching then at Chicago’s Bellarmine School of Theology, contributed single handedly the annual Notes on Moral Theology including issues concerning sexual ethics, death and dying, and the socio-political mission of the Church. From New York City’s Woodstock College, John Gallen published a Note critiquing regrettable failures in the 1972 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s directive limiting the use of general sacramental absolution.

The articles that appear in this year’s March fascicle are meant to express the same commitment to excellence in dialogue with both tradition and contemporary issues.

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